Q&A With QDDR’s Tom Perriello, Wait, What’s That? Whyohwhyohwhy?

Posted: 4:36 pm EDT
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The State Department says that the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR): provides a blueprint for advancing America’s interests in global security, inclusive economic growth, climate change, accountable governance and freedom for all.

-04/28/15  Remarks Announcing the Release of the 2015 QDDR Report;  Secretary of State John Kerry; Briefing Room; Washington, DC
-04/28/15  Briefing on the 2015 QDDR Report;  Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom; Washington, DC
-04/27/15  Secretary Kerry to Announce Release of 2015 QDDR Report; Office of the Spokesperson; Washington, DC

On May 19, Tom Perriello, the QDDR Special Representative asked if this blog might be interested in doing a Q&A on the QDDR.  On May 26, we sent him the following eight questions via email. By end of June, his QDDR office was still wrestling with the State Department’s clearance process.

On July 6, Mr. Perriello was appointed Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region of Africa. He assured us that he’s still “pushing hard” to get the Q&A cleared and appreciate the patience.  On July 10, he moved office and told us it is  unlikely that he’ll get clearance before he leaves his office but that “they’re moving.” He gave us a senior advisor as a contact person and we’ve checked in with the QDDR office about once a week since then.  On August 3, the senior advisor told us that the office has just been informed that given its leadership transition, “folks here would like our new Director to be able to respond to the questions that Tom answered. (Our new Deputy Director has just come on board this week, and a new Director for the office is starting in a couple of weeks.) This means that we will be delayed for a few more weeks.”

Whyohwhyohwhy?  So folks, here are the questions we wanted answered. And apparently, Mr. Perriello and his staffer did try to get us some answers, and we appreciate that, but the Q&A is still snared in some cauldron in the bureaucracy as of this writing.  If/When the hybrid answers get to us, we will post it here.

#1. QDDR/CSO: The 2010 QDDR transformed the Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS) into the Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) to enhance efforts to prevent conflict, violent extremism, and mass atrocities. The 2015 QDDR says that “Some progress has been made in this area.”  I understand that CSO no longer has any mission element about stabilization and stabilization operations. It also remains heavy with contractors. One could argue that the current CSO is not what was envisioned in QDDR I, so why should it continue to exists if it only duplicates other functions in the government? Can you elaborate more on what is CSOs new role going forward, and what makes it unique and distinct from the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs’ Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and USAID’s Office of Transition Initiatives?

 INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#2. Innovation and Risks: The QDDR talks about “promoting innovation.” Innovation typically requires risk. Somebody quoted you saying something like the gotcha attitude of press and Congress contributes to risk aversion from State and USAID. But risks and risk aversion also comes from within the system. I would point out as example the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications previously headed by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, and its controversial campaign “Think Again Turn Away” which afforded the USG a new way to disrupt the enemy online. Ambassador Fernandez was recently replaced by a political appointee with minimal comparable experience. It also looks like CSCC will be folded into a new entity. So how do you encourage State/USAID employees “to err on the side of engagement and experimentation, rather than risk avoidance” when there are clear bureaucratic casualties for taking on risks?

 INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#3. Engagement with American Public: The QDDR says: “Make citizen engagement part of the job. Every Foreign Service employee in the Department and USAID will be required to spend time engaging directly with the American people.” Are you aware that there are over 500 blogs run by Foreign Service employees and family members that could potentially help with engagement with the American public? Isn’t it time for these blogs to be formally adopted so that they remain authentic voices of experience without their existence subjected to the good graces of their superiors here or there?

  INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#4. Eligible Family Members:  The State Department has talked about expanding opportunities for eligible family members for a long time now and I regret that I have not seen this promise go very far. There are a couple of things that could help eligible family members — 1) portability of security clearance, so that they need not have to wait for 6-12 months just to get clearances reinstated; and 2) internship to gain experience from functional bureaus or section overseas. Why are we not doing these? And by the way, we’re now in the 21st century and FS spouses still do not have online access to State Department resources that assist them in researching assignments and bids overseas. Employees are already afforded remote access, why is that not possible for family members? Wouldn’t taking care of people start with affording family members access to information that would help them plan their lives every three years?

  INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#5. Foreign Assistance: One of the criticisms I’ve heard about QDDR is how it did not even address the reality that the United States has far too many foreign assistance programs — “an uncoordinated diaspora of offices and agencies scattered around the bureaucratic universe in D.C. from the Justice Department to the DoD to the Commerce Department to the Export-Import Bank to the Treasury Department and beyond, to the bewilderment of anyone the United States does business with overseas.” What do you say to that?

  INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#6. Data Collection: Somebody called the second set of “three Ds” — data, diagnostics, and design as the “most revolutionary, disruptive element of QDDR II.” I can see development subjected to these three Ds, but how do you propose to do this with diplomacy where successful engagements are based on national interests and the human element and not necessarily data driven? Also data is only as good as its collector. How will data be collected?

  INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#7. Institutional Weaknesses: Some quarters look at the State Department and points at several institutional weaknesses today: 1) the predominance of domestic 9-5 HQ staff with little or no real field experience, foreign language and other cultural insight, and 2) the rampant politicization and bureaucratic layering by short term office holders with little or no knowledge of the State Department and less interest in its relevance as a national institution. How does the QDDR address these weaknesses? How does the QDDR propose to recreate a national diplomatic service based on a common core of shared capabilities and understanding of 21st century strategic geopolitical challenges and appropriate longer term responses?

  INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

#8: QDDR Operation: I remember that you sent out a solicitation of ideas and suggestions for QDDR II and I’m curious at the kind of response you got. Can you also elaborate the process of putting together QDDR II? Finally, the success of QDDR II will be on implementation. Who’s leading the effort and what role will you and the QDDR office have on that? Unless I’m mistaken, the QDDR implementers are also not career officials, what happens when they depart their positions? Who will shepherd these changes to their expected completion?

 INSERT ANSWER IN A FEW WEEKS.

We should note that the senior advisor who has been trying to get this Q&A cleared is also moving on and has now handed this task over to a PD advisor who assured us that they “are committed to responding as soon as possible in the midst of this transition, and we will not start from scratch.”

Folks, you don’t think there’s anything wrong with this entire clearance process, do you? Or the fact that the State Department’s office tasked with developing “a blueprint for advancing America’s interests in global security, inclusive economic growth, climate change, accountable governance and freedom for all” is actually unable to answer eight simple questions without the answers being pushed through a wringer, twice for good measure?

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3 responses

  1. I would suggest that the QDDR be changed to the MDDR (Millennial Diplomacy and Development Review) and that everyone be forbidden to talk or write about it for the next thousand years.